Friday, September 19, 2008

random musings of cultural awareness

Just to get some wheels turning, I wanted to take a little time to express some random thoughts flowing thru my mind before they disintegrate into the great beyound. I have had some cool realizations this am, and in a way that's a good thing, because I am truly questioning myself and holding myself accountable for sometimes being closed minded as I was earlier in my life conditioned to do. I was basically raised in the a small town of southern culture and never felt quite comfortable with the racism and ethnocentricism that was silently imposed on me by my immediate family and peers. There was always a mask of southern hospitality and being nice that covered up really what was thought or meant in conversations. The world was hence set up for me as a youngster as a conflict between what was verbalized with an incongruency in what was really meant. I could always sense something was not quite right and it was difficult to remain in the truth of what I perceived in conflict to what was being imposed on me by society. I was taught the golden rule while I witnessed the utmost hypocrisy. In spite of all of that, however, I always had a strong interest in people who looked different and acted different than myself, and embraced it as a child. I lived in a neighborhood that was increasingly becoming "more ethnic", according to my parents ,and they decided to move. I was enjoying my African American friend next door and curious about the Indian family that lived down the street about the time this decision took place. I remember feeling bewilderd and confused. Although this was a horrible thing at the time, I knew one day I would live a different reality. Ed Hall is really dead on when he talks about how we can only see our own culture in comparison to other cultures.

In my experience over the last five years as a energy and bodyworker, I have been into eastern thought pertaining to philosophy and medicine. There are two main differences between Chinese and Western allopathic medicine. The Chinese look at the mind body and spirit as one whole, whereas Western medicine has had a tendency to compartmentalize the mind body and spirit as well as the organ systems of the body. For example, if you go to an acupuncturist for treatment for stomach problems, you will not be prescribed a pill to control the acidity but rather your whole body will be treated, because all the organs "communicate" and influence each other and if one organ is unhappy it will affect the function of other organs. So, if the energy (refered to as Chi) is not flowing freely thru one organ, it is in effect "blocked", the other organs are in a Chi deficit because the other organ system is holding up the chi. Thus, the energy is not freely flowing and available throughout the body.

Even though I have been aware of the need to look at the whole big picture, I see that I still at times revert back to my western roots that have been ingrained deeply in me. Ed Hall mentions at the end of The Hidden Dimension that "You can't shed matter how hard a man tries it is impossible for him to divert himself of his own culture, for it has penetrated to the roots of his nervous system and determines how he perceives the world." It is apparently outside of our voluntary control--uughh! I recently observed this tendency in myself when I compartmentalized art. I was frustrated with reading Ellen Dissanayake's book What is Art For? because I was expecting to read about the A word (" Art"), not Anthropology. What I did not immediately recognize is that Anthropology is the roots and basis for the evolution of humanity and thus art. As Westerners, there is a tendency to want immediate answers and immediate results. I was looking for a direct explanation of Art not a achaelogical dig! However, I am aware that I am learning still to trust the process of coming to a greater understanding of all that is takes a long long time, perhaps several lifetimes! The Chinese value life long learning and are not in any hurry to master anything immediately. Tai Chi, an ancient martial art, takes a lifetime to master, if at all. I have been practicing 5 years now, and am considered an assistant instructor in my school. However, I am only a beginner of this intricate art. I have noticed that it scares away some folks because getting results and making progress is much slower and methodical compared to weight training and aerobics. Again, since Westerners tend to value instant results, few have the patience to remain the eternal beginner and student that this art requires. I could go on and on, but hopefully I have begun to paint a picture of what's going on with my thoughts now that I have given a brief synopsis of where I am today in the process of learning to look at the big picture from a universal view point.

As bodywork therapist, I have had many an opportunity to notice spatial interactions with others while on the job. I loved reading the Distances in Man chapter in The Hidden Dimension because of the fact that my work is primarily has to do with touch. When I first see the client, he/she will be seated in a waiting area and we are at a Social distance of about 7 or so feet. I will greet my client, and she will stand and we will shake hands. This formal greeting establishes a sense of confort for the client. I show them to the treatment room, and have them sit in a comfortable chair. I sit on my "therapist stool", and the distance is now at a personal close phase of about 1.5 feet. At this point, I talk with them and get to know them and discuss the treatment plan, and go over the intake health history form. I am always using my intuition here because the client invariably will only tell me so much. For example, they might say, "I have been under alot of stress and my neck and shoulders hurt, and I just want to relax." Usually they will tell me much more when on the table, which is now at an initimate distance far phase of six to 8 inches, where the body is not in contact but where the "hands can reach and grasp extremities." p 117. The person will sometimes talk to me verbally about what is going on in their life to produce the physical manifestation of the stress or injury, or sometimes I will perceive and feel what they are going through. My hands have some pretty tuned in proprioceptors and are quite skilled in finding the problem areas they might not have mentioned. I get to know them on a deeper level, because their bodies will communicate with me. After the session is complete, I will leave the room and when they come out, I will be at a close social distance, and I will notice them more refreshed and open and glowing. I feel that there is a silent but clear communication of peace and appreciation that goes way beyond "Thanks, that was an awesome massage!" As a therapist, I have developed an intuitive capacity that is crucial in interacting with my clients. It is interesting that the distance gets closer physically from the time I greet my client to the time they are on the table. It establishes comfort because I gradually enter their sphere. Also, a certain spiritual closeness has developed as well at the close of the time I spend with my clients.

A sacred space is what I love. My home is a representation of my own inner culture, that has developed over the years. When you walk in my home, a small 2 bedroom apartment, you come into a lived in cozy space. It has elements of Asia, Hawaii, India, and the Southwest all rolled up into a Tibetian temple like space. The office area is both for dining and studying, and can be converted into a treatment area for massage and Reiki by setting up my portable massage table. There is definitely the semi-fixed feature here. Throughout the living space you will find the Tibetian burgundy red color in my blinds, pillows, and pottery. There is also the water element, in the form of a batik wall hanging with dolphins--this is delightful and soothing because depending on the lighting the dolphins appear to be laughing or frowning! On the mantle of my fire place are some Jade figures a friend from Vietnam gave me for good luck along with a frog sitting on feng shui coins. There is also a coyote and bear figure, along with a piece of green fluorite. I have other crystals and rocks throughout my place. I have oriented my book cases along the walls like the Europeans do, and my sofa and loveseat are in the middle, like the Japanese. There is also a rug with 5 versions of Kokopeli (Zuni). Weird, I didn't intentionally do it like that on purpose. I have the Asian characters for Summer, Fall , Winter, and Spring on the wall beside my bookcase along with a calender of China. There are lots of stuffed animals hanging out, too, both mine and my son's. Ian and I share this space with 2 living frogs (Bob and Cumin) , goldfish (yin and yang), and a hamster named Munchy. I have been trying to figure out the Feng Shui thing for the 4 years I have lived here by constantly reorienting and moving furniture and stuff around and its been fun. It all works for a while until I decide to move my altar, which I have found is better to see just as you walk in the door. It is at the fireplace, at the fame and reputation gua!!! I guess its ok there. I have a Buddha head there and will have to move her so I can redo my altar for El Dia del los muertos soon. I am going to stop here because this post is getting too long and I gotta get some sleep. Peace,Laura

1 comment:

larry lavender said...

Ah, the silent imposition of racism, etc. in the american south... pretty darn relevant to this election isn't it? The mask of southern hospitality, now there is a phrase that captures something essential in only a few words. You've got a bit of the poet in you. Yet you survived it with conscience intact, and are indeed shedding some of that culture just by naming it as you do. I like how your body work led you to eastern thought, the body has a funny way of providing paths of insight for the mind, eh? As a dancer I know this and it is something I am glad I know. Really strong connections here between Hall and Dissanayake, nice to see that link made explicitly in yours and others' blog entries.